writing without words

When we can’t find the right words, sometimes it’s best to stop looking.

Over and over in my work with helping people write, there comes a moment of stumped silence when they can’t find the right words. They’ll try again, blurting out bits and pieces of test phrases, circling in frustration, reviewing their inner thesaurus, at a loss for words.

I’ve found that the solution then is to get the focus off of words altogether. “Forget about the words,” I say. “My fingers are here on the keyboard. I’ll capture what you say. Just tell me about your idea. Focus on the thought. What’s the concept?”

And off they’ll bound, words coming a mile a minute. I’ll type as fast as I can to get it all down. They’re on fire, released from the limitations of words. And because of that, their words are brilliant. When they finally stop, certain they’ve said it all, I read back to them what they’ve said. They can’t believe it. “Really?” they say. “I said that?”

Yes. Because their focus was freed to express a thought. Writing and words are nothing without a thought to back them up. When the words don’t come, check the thought behind it. Is it too vague? Tangled? Lost altogether?

Words want to find you. Give them something solid to stand on. Back up and forget them for a moment or a while – however long it takes to find the juicy core of your concept and get your thinking in order.

It helps to talk out loud. To yourself or to your writing group, to your best friend, your dad, your dog, or your closet door. Talk until you lose self-consciousness. Talk until you find a groove where all you’re doing is tuning in to the glorious, important, crucial thing you’re eager to share.

Thoughts are things – tangible and holdable. Words are thoughts expressed. Get that process in the right order and your words will follow you around like puppies – eager to please, squirming underfoot, all over the place, so happy to find you.

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